Disclaimer: I don't own Jet. I don't particularly think he would take kindly to being owned by anyone. Legally though, he's Mike and Bryan's.
A/N: I don't know how exactly Jet became a character I felt I needed to write about. This particular one-shot was mostly inspired by a beautiful AMV set to Clay Aiken's "Measure of a Man", titled 'Song of the Tragic Hero'. I know a lot of people either dislike or dismiss Jet's character, but it felt like he needed a eulogy. And I couldn't help imagining his last minutes from his perspective. So here's my tribute to one of Avatar's mostly unsung heroes.
It felt good to do this again.
They were like extensions of my arms, my two faithful hookswords. I always felt like my years of holding them had worn the shapes of my palm and fingers into the grips.
It was good to have an enemy again, clear cut and solid; not some elusive firebender and his uncle.
And it was good to feel like part of a team. My Freedom Fighters were splintered, but even having good old Longshot and Smellerbee here with me felt right. And I have to admit, even the Avatar's ragtag band felt like a force at my back.
Even better, my mind was clear again. Being brainwashed is not a good experience, trust me.
The underground dampness was giving me the creeps, but I had long since learned that as a leader, you were never supposed to show people when you were afraid. So I took the lead, like I had for much of my life. There had been no one around to lead me, so naturally I learned how to do it myself.
I didn't really have to be down here in the first place. But I felt like I owed it to the Avatar to help him find his bison. Poor kid…seems like a lot to ask of someone so young to save the world. He's pretty naïve if you ask me, but a good kid. And I owed these Dai Li no favors, not after the brainwashing thing.
Plus, there was Katara.
I have to admit, it did hurt that she didn't trust me anymore. I genuinely liked it back when she did. I genuinely liked her, actually, although I don't think she believes that now. And even now, when she pretty much still hated me, I had to admire her. Not every day you come across a good-looking girl who can pin you to a wall with icicles. Not comfortable, but impressive.
I was pretty sure we were getting close. Pieces of memory kept flashing at me, and I was remembering parts of this tunnel. The bison should be around here somewhere, if that damn Long Feng really was keeping it.
"I think it's through here." I pointed with one hooksword at the nearest stone door. The sight of it stirred one of my memories, and it was the best lead I'd gotten so far.
They slid the door open, revealing nothing but darkness.
I took a few cautious steps inside, still leading. I saw the shadows of Smellerbee and Longshot move behind me, followed by the shadows of Aang and his friends.
It really was pretty stupid of me, I guess. After all, hadn't my Freedom Fighters always attacked from above? It was one of the oldest strategies in the book.
The second the lamps flared to life, I knew we were trapped, even before the stone door shut behind us. Even before I saw the guys hanging from the ceiling, and the smug face of Long Feng himself.
"You have made yourselves enemies of the state." Even before those words had left his mouth, I had my hookswords raised into position. I felt the others tensing beside me, and good old Longshot was already notching an arrow to his bow. Never let it be said I was fighting in the company of cowards.
And then came the words I had been expecting. "Take them into custody."
I love how guys in power always try to disguise what they're trying to say with fancy words. What he basically meant was, "Take them out."
Just you try it. I dare you.
They attacked faster than I'd anticipated. Those rock fist things came flying out of nowhere. If it wasn't for that blind earthbender, I'd have been done for in that first moment. But she blew them to powder by hardly twitching a finger.
There are some days I wish I could have been born a bender.
But, to each his own.
I could almost have thanked that damn firebender for the fight a couple days ago. At least I was warmed up now. I remembered what it felt like to be in a real scuffle. It had been too long.
The Dai Li may have been the most impressive thing the Earth Kingdom had to offer, but I can tell you now, I'd bet ten barrels of blasting jelly they'd never come across weapons like my hookswords.
I'd long since perfected the tricks that could be done with them. Get them around the ankles, and they never know what hits them. Loose folds of clothing make perfect targets. You can shove off walls, catch your balance, use them as clubs.
It was chaos, but then, what battle wasn't? Water, rock, arrows, and metal flashed and flew. I could just barely keep track of where everyone on my side was.
But I did notice one important detail, in the midst of the flying bodies and elements.
Long Feng was leaving.
Apparently, Aang noticed it too, because his voice rang out a second later over the battle. "Long Feng is escaping!"
I have to hand it to the kid; he doesn't just talk. He was right there with me when I broke out of the pack towards the man who had been behind my brainwashing. I owed that guy big time.
And of course, following him was my second mistake. I left behind the other sealed room, only to walk straight into another one. All I can say is I was caught up in the heat of the moment. But it was still stupid.
"Alright Avatar, you've caused me enough problems." Man, I hated that voice. So deep and calm and edged with cruelty. I wanted to smack the expression off his face with my swords. Unfortunately, that was when he dropped in the comment that was Aang's weakness.
"This is your last chance…if you want your bison back."
Well, at least we knew for sure now that Long Feng had him.
"You're in no position to bargain!" I snapped at him. Who did this guy think he was, really?
I was hardly paying attention now. I was looking for an opening, a weakness. If I could take him down with one sword, maybe Aang could help me hold him…
And that was when the fateful words pierced my brain. The single nonsensical sentence that sealed everything for me.
"Jet, the Earth King has invited you to Lake Laogai."
It's a really weird feeling to describe to you. If you've never been brainwashed before, and trust me, you don't want to be, it's hard to tell you what it felt like. It was a little like all my muscles froze up, and then something shocked my brain, and everything went white and cold. And then…
Avatar. He was a threat. Why hadn't I seen it before? By challenging Long Feng, he was challenging the peace and prosperity of the city itself. And I could not allow that to happen. I was a good citizen of Ba Sing Se.
Some deeply buried part of me registered the shocked look on his face as I whirled on him. A sudden viciousness rose to the surface of my body. My mind was controlled by a single need; kill the Avatar. Anything to preserve the peace. Anything for Ba Sing Se.
After all, there was no war.
Aang was pleading with me, but of course, he would. He was a clever little kid, trying to infiltrate the city and turn the Earth King against his people. Of course he would bargain for his life.
"Jet, I'm your friend! Look inside your heart!"
My friend. Don't make me laugh. As for looking into my heart…
Wait a second. Where was my heart?
I'd never thought of myself as having a real big conscience or anything, but usually I could feel emotions most strongly in my chest. But now…there was a big blank space in my head and in my torso.
I was aware of little things, suddenly. My fast breathing. The sweat drenching my face. Aang, a kid, just a kid…he's supposed to save the world, or something.
"Do your duty, Jet."
That voice I was supposed to obey. That voice always knew best…I would follow whatever it said.
"He can't make you do this. You're a Freedom Fighter!"
Freedom. Oh yeah, I remember that…
Picking up Smellerbee, a small ragged bundle on the leaves. Swinging through the tree branches until they became a blur, laughing at the world. Lifting my cup and listening to the delighted roars of my gang. Flipping Fire Nation soldiers with my trusty hookswords. Watching the sun set over the forest without anything to worry about. The awed, trusting warmth of Katara's blue eyes looking into mine. The faces of my Fighters, my friends, grinning at me, looking to me as a leader. And Long Feng and his brainwashers dragging me away.
And then everything snapped into focus again. My insides and my thoughts returned in a rush. Now I knew my enemy. I was a fool and an idiot for giving into it again. But by everything I had ever done as a Freedom Fighter, I was never letting someone else take my brain back again.
"Do it. Do it now!"
Oh no you don't, you creepy jerk. Not while I'm here. I'm never listening to you again.
I turned around and threw my sword as hard as I could. For freedom.
Everything happened really fast after that. I know everyone says that, but it's true. I don't think I had any time to even blink.
He sidestepped the sword without even flinching. I never saw what he actually did, but the next second, I was airborn. Something had slammed into my chest so hard I felt the bones crumple, I felt it cave in.
I landed flat on my back with a burst of pain so intense I'm amazed I didn't black out. I couldn't see, I couldn't breathe, I couldn't hear. All I knew was the roar of blood in my ears and the pain was that eating a hole in my chest.
Finally, I became aware of footsteps on stone. It took a few seconds for me to remember how my eyes worked, so I could glance down and see the damage. Miraculously, my chest was whole, or at least that's how it looked. That wasn't how it felt.
I managed to focus on the pale shape hovering over me. I needed to say something to that face.
"I'm sorry, Aang." Damn, talking hurt. But this was important.
"Don't be." His face was tight with pain too, although he wasn't injured that I could see.
More footsteps, many more. And then a splash of blue entered my vision. Katara. I couldn't decide whether I wanted to see her, or whether I'd rather she not see me like this. Too late anyway.
A cool wash spread over my chest, and for one glorious second the pain went away. I felt the shapes of her hands smoothing over me, and I could almost relax and enjoy this. But then she drew back and the pain came back like a wave, making me catch my breath.
"This isn't good," I heard her tell the others. I could have told them that. My chest was buckled from the inside; I could feel it now.
And then Smellerbee cut in. "You guys go find Appa. We'll take care of Jet." That's my girl. Get Aang and his friends back on track. They don't need to see this. They have a job of their own, a big one by the sound of it.
"We're not going to leave you." Oh, Katara. Stubborn to the last. Her voice was shaking, and I thought her eyes looked shiny, although my vision kept blurring. Maybe she did care about me after all. It was kind of nice to know. No, it was really nice to know.
But her place wasn't with me. I might have liked for it to be, but it wasn't. I could admit that.
"There's no time. Just go. We'll take care of him. He's our leader." Great spirits. Longshot. He only ever spoke around me and Bee, and even then almost never. That he was uttering a sound in the company of all these people…he was really serious. You're a good guy, Longshot my friend.
I smiled up at Katara. I'm amazed that I could, but somehow I found the strength to do it. And despite the fact that I hurt all over, it still felt real.
"Don't worry Katara, I'll be fine."
That was all I could manage. In my head though, I spoke to Aang and the rest. I hoped that they'd end the war. I hoped they took the Fire Nation down. I hoped they went out and lived happy lives. Free lives.
Now I knew for sure that Katara was struggling not to cry. Her whole body was shaking. I managed to turn my head enough to watch their four retreating backs. I watched Katara until she vanished out the door.
If anyone could do this, they could.
Longshot had taken up a guardian's stance, an arrow notched tight on his bow. He looked like a full-fledged warrior, standing there. Man, I was proud of him. He'd come a long way since the shivering, rocking little boy we'd picked up from a Fire Nation-stripped village.
And good old Bee. She was usually never one for emotion, but I could feel the hot dots of her tears on my bare skin. Her hand was gentle on my forehead. She'd come a long way too. And both of them, loyal to the last.
"Hey, don't cry Bee." I probably shouldn't have used her pet name; it only made her cry harder.
"Don't worry about me, really. It doesn't hurt so much anymore." And it was true. The pain was fading slowly, but surely.
"What are we gonna do without you, Jet?" she whispered. Her paint streaked face filled my vision.
"You'll be fine. You should go back to the others, though. Tell them to stick together. Be good." I had to grin at that too. And Bee smiled back, although it was pretty shaky.
"You and Longshot take care of each other." Longshot turned his head toward me. Aw, not him too. But yeah, brave, silent Longshot was crying too.
"I will, Jet," he promised me, his dark eyes serious despite the fact that they were leaking.
"Good man, Longshot. Say hi to all the others for me, will you?" It was getting steadily darker. I mean, it was already dark down there underground, but it was getting even darker. I felt a twinge of sadness that I'd never get to see the sun again, or breathe in real air. Oh well. You couldn't choose all your battles.
I figured I might as well go down talking light, like I always had.
"Tell The Duke not to use all the blasting jelly at once. Make sure Pipsqueak does cooking duty, even if he doesn't like it. Knock Sneers off a tree branch for me once or twice; he needs someone to keep his reflexes sharp. And never give up, no matter what anyone tells you."
Bee's hand was stroking my forehead rhythmically. It was strangely comforting. Longshot's silhouette was a dark spot in my fading vision, outlined like a beacon. I could still feel the familiar shape of my one remaining hooksword in my hand.
"And if you can, have someone write a song about me, y'know? They can tell it around the fire to little kids or something. Jet the Freedom Fighter, scourge of the Fire Nation, the Hooksword Warrior…yeah, I like the sound of that. Make sure they don't get it wrong. And if they change stuff, make sure it's stuff that makes me look good, okay?"
"Sure thing Jet," whispered Smellerbee's voice from somewhere above me.
"Good. See you around…Bee…Longshot…nice being a Freedom Fighter with you…"
See, the pain was almost gone. In fact, it was pretty much all gone. That was good. It was also really dark, but that wasn't bad. It was the kind of quiet dark that filled the forest at night. I was used to this kind of dark.
For a while, I was just drifting. I missed my chewing straw. At least it would have given me something to do, and I always felt more at ease with it.
Then I saw the trees. Tall, spreading trees, looming out of the dark and the fog. Trees with thin bars of sunlight filtering through the leaves, which were red and gold with fall. Trees with lots of branches to use my hookswords on.
Oh good, I thought to myself, managing that roguish smile I liked to believe was mine. They have trees here too.